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Aerial shot of Black Lives Matter Rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Published 06/09/2020 | Reading Time 9 min 3 sec
Editorial By Kavin J. Ross, Senior Writer
Many cries of unfairness during negative interactions between blacks and whites often ends with blacks not easily believed.
In recent times, the camera phone has been the best weapon to fight racism. Racial confrontations are on the rise in record numbers across the nation. White rogue officers, vigilantes, or privileged people who feel that their skin color are superior, create a one-sided disadvantage.
There are multiple dimensions in this powerful interaction, a black side, a white side, and what is captured on video.
Cherry Shine Parlor on North Greenwood Ave. (Photo by John Southern) | Photo Courtesy of the Cherry Family
Ninety-nine years ago in Tulsa, a bootblack named Dick Rowland was shining shoes. He leaves the parlor to use the restroom in the upper floors of the Drexler Building. Rowland encountered elevator operator Sarah Page. Once the door closed something happened.
Known by his friends as Diamond Dick, he was seen by a clerk fleeing from the elevator. He continued to run towards Greenwood. The internet was yet to be invented, but news spread throughout the community.
The headlines in the Tulsa Tribune read “Nab Negro in Elevator Attack”. A black man assaulting a white woman in broad daylight was unheard of. Tulsans were outraged.
After the arrest Rowland, a small group of armed black veterans marched to the Tulsa County Courthouse. A much larger group of white Tulsans also gathered. Their intentions were similar. Both groups demanded the release of Rowland. The black vets offered additional protection for him. The assembled white mob wanted to lynch Diamond Dick.
Tulsa County Sheriff McCullough directed the protesters on the south side to disburse. Barney Cleaver, Tulsa’s first black law enforcement officer, advised the black vets the same. The two groups would settle on the east side.
Robert Fairchild, a friend of Rowland, stated “A white man confronted a black vet and asked, “What are you going to do with that gun, nigger,” the black man replied “Use it if I have to,” according to Fairchild. The gun went off, and what would later be known as the Tulsa Race Massacre began.
A silent motion film of Mt. Zion Baptist Church burning in the Greenwood District.
In the golden age of silent films, Greenwood’s destruction was recorded live as Mt Zion burned. Smoke billowed as whites were able to freely walk among the rubble and ashes of Greenwood.
Residents of Black Wall Street were held in internment camps around the city, including the former Brady Theater.
Entrance to a refugee camp on the fairgrounds, Tulsa, Okla., after the race massacre in 1921. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, American National Red Cross Collection)
Images of Greenwood’s destruction became postcards and were sold, but hidden from the pages of history. No reparations to the victims and a toll of an estimated 300 Tulsans were murdered under the color of law. Today, we’re still looking for their bodies.
Postcards made for the entertainment of White Americans of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre
On the eve of the Black Wall Street Massacre 99th anniversary, protesters from around the world took to the streets in the name of George Floyd. George became yet another martyr-like other unarmed African-Americans.
Greg Robinson and Dr. Tiffany Crutcher (on left) and mural of George Floyd on right.
Tulsan Terrence Crutcher died on video as Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby shot and killed him. Eric Harris, also from Tulsa cried out, “I Can’t Breathe” to the deputy sheriff who placed all his weight upon him. The last words Harris heard from the deputy was “F**k Your Breath.” While subdued, Tulsa County Reserve Deputy Robert Bates, 73, shot Harris in the back. All on camera. The Oklahoma community became outraged.
Earlier this year, Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was jogging through his neighborhood in Georgia. Arbery was chased and killed in broad daylight. Along with the father and son duo, Gregory and Travis McMichaels, William Bryan operated the camera phone and became a suspect in the murder case. Bryan was heard yelling on the recording, “Do you get him?” The camera footage also showed a confederate flag sticker on the toolbox of McMichael’s truck. McMichaels stood over Ahmaud’s body stating “F***ing n***er,” which was also heard on the video after three shotgun blasts from McMichael’s gun. All three men plead not guilty.
A nation is outraged.
In New York City’s Central Park, Amy Cooper was walking with her dog. She was reminded by Christian Cooper to follow the park’s rules on unleashed dogs. Perturbed by Christian’s request, she warned him that she’ll call the police because an African-American had threatened her.
The camera rolled as Amy placed the fake “damsel in distress” 911 call. Christian continued to film. The police responded, but Cooper and Cooper were no longer at the scene. However, the footage was already uploaded to the internet, and once again, a nation was outraged.
In the same month, a white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chovin, applied pressure of his weight upon the neck of native Houstonian George Floyd. Earlier Floyd was detained over the accusation of forgery. Cameras were present, and for the next nine minutes, the video recorded the murder of yet another unarmed black man.
The captured clip revealed to the world that Floyd took one of his last breaths to call out to his deceased mother. The frightening and heartbreaking video was uploaded to the internet, and the world became outraged.
Before the cameras on the 99th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre, two days of peaceful protest was overshadowed by a truck towing a horse trailer plowing through a crowd of protesters, on the Martin Luther King. Jr. Interstate Highway, (I-244), injuring two. Ironically in Minnesota, nearly at the same time on Sunday, a tanker barreled through protesters also assembled on the freeway.
In the cover of the night, protesters reassembled on South Tulsa’s affluent Brookside neighborhood and blocked the streets. After many patient orders to clear South Peoria Ave. from Tulsa first African-American chief of police, Wendall Franklin, tear gas canisters were deployed along with rubber pellets, at protesters mostly white, after refusing orders from the Tulsa Police Department. A peaceful demonstration now became a confrontation.
Dr. John Hope Franklin, noted author and historian, was quoted to say. “Study your past, because history has a way of repeating itself, and when it does, you will be better prepared for it.” Author and former Tulsa Race Riot Commissioner, Eddie Faye Gates said, “History is a lie agreed upon, and somebody lied about Tulsa.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu stated during a visit to Oklahoma. “Tulsa is sitting on a powder keg because the city continues to sweep its past under the rug. We in South Africa look to America on how you deal with your race relations.” Tutu further stated that If Tulsa would ever learn from the past and improve its race relations, the city could become a shining jewel to the world.
Those in attendance to witness or participate in recent protest rallies around Tulsa experienced a phenomenal contrast of May 31, 1921, and May 31, 2020. 99 years later on the sacred grounds of Black Wall Street, where blood was shed, homes looted and burned, an ocean of Tulsan’s diverse community flooded the streets of the Historic Greenwood District and South Tulsa.
Chanting boldly in harmonic voices George Floyd’s last words, I CAN’T BREATHE, and BLACK LIVES MATTER, quite possibly we all are learning from the hidden pages of Tulsa’s dark past. It takes One Tulsa to sever the vicious cycle of hate, and the repetition of our city’s mistakes.
J. Kavin Ross is a contributing writer for the Black Wall Street Times and the Founder and Editor of the Greenwood Tribune. James Kavin Ross is a connoisseur of all things Black Wall Street of America. Since his return from Houston, Texas, now over two decades, Ross hit the ground running in the quest of researching the hidden and untapped history of Tulsans of the Greenwood community. Inspired by the works of Dr. John Hope Franklin, a native Tulsan and world-renowned author and historian, Ross was lead on the path in search of the history of Black Wall Street of America. Researching the history and culture of his hometown is just one of his many passions.